“A goal is a dream with a deadline”
Recently I was in a meeting where this quote was featured on a wall and I quite liked it, with my first reflections related to personal and professional goals. But soon the aptness of the quote had my thoughts turning to an exceptional person in my life, my 15-year-old niece, Sarah D. You see this niece of mine has a really big goal (and dream) in mind, with its deadline looming in a few months.
We tend to think our family—especially the younger members—are exceptionally gifted. For many reasons Sarah is a multi-talented young woman (see end of post for more details), but one thing that particularly stands out is the social conscience Sarah developed at a relatively young age.
Sarah’s current big goal—which she focuses on like a burning beacon of pure intent and steadfast determination—is to travel to Kenya for 20 days this summer to help build a school room, as a part of the Canadian (Craig and Mark Kielburger brothers’) educational initiative, the Me to We program.
Now I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of Sarah’s goal from the get-go. Learning from her nana that Sarah was tasked with raising the necessary funds related to participating, giving a cash birthday present towards her “Me to We” Kenya dream was easy. But I’m hoping a more significant contribution is in offering Sarah an international PR platform where she can tell her own story about from where–and why–her social conscience and drive originates.
Pre-interview note: A couple of years ago an email message landed in my in-box from Sarah, outlining why she and three friends were participating in the CN Tower Stair Climb on behalf of the WWF and asking for a donation towards their team cause. As a communicator, I was impressed with the message’s eloquence, particularly after confirming that Sarah was both the team organizer and the author. (See A2.) We agreed that the personal-communication role (i.e., no third-party suggestions or editing) would be applied for this initiative, except this time Sarah responded to a series of questions I asked her.
Sarah’s journey towards Me to We
Q1.Sketch in the broad strokes. When did you first began to develop a social conscience (i.e., how old were you), how and why?
A1. I first began to develop a social conscience while learning about the state of the environment in eighth grade. The issue has changed how I live my life by taking the focus off convenience and paying attention to what needs to be done. The feeling that I have made a difference gave me confidence in my abilities and led me to open my mind to other opportunities, such as the Kenya volunteer trip with Me to We.
Q2. Before you became interested in participating in Me to We, what other involvement have you had in activist or social consciousness-raising activities?
A2. When I was 13, I got a few school friends together to raise money for the WWF’s CN Tower climb annual fundraiser. Together, we donated $650 with the help of family and friends. I’d never done anything like it, and I suppose I caught the volunteering bug.
Q3. Why did you select Kenya as your Me to We destination?
A3. I chose Kenya as my destination for various reasons. Firstly, the removal of school fees in Kenya in 2003 left more than 1 million willing student-aged children outside of classrooms, due to the lack of facilities and teachers. By building a school room with Me to We, I’m providing the opportunity for education for more Kenyan children. Secondly, the Masaai Mara is said to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth and I definitely want to visit it once in my life. Luckily, I have friends who have gone on the same trip as the one that I am doing, so I have already received great advice and support.
Q4. What are you participating in (or doing) before your actual visit to Kenya?
A4. Once a month, I meet with the other people participating on the trip to learn about the issues, religion, traditions and history of Kenya. By doing this, I’ll feel more prepared to face Kenya and I’ll have an idea of what to expect.
Q5. How much does will this trip cost?
A5. The cost of the trip is just over CA$5,000 .
Q6. How much have you raised so far and how have you done it?
A6. I have raised $2,500 so far by working at a restaurant on weekends and by being given birthday and Christmas gifts of money.
Q7. What do you hope to get out of this experience, both in the “larger world” sense and personally?
A7. I hope to gain a better perspective of the world. The life I live is worry-free and privileged, and unfortunately that lifestyle is not universal. By seeing the sad truth of poverty, I hope to close the link between myself and reality. I imagine this trip will inspire me to stay involved in some way for the rest of my life.
Q8. When you told (or tell) family and friends about your dream and plans, what is their reaction? How do you respond?
A8. I received different reactions from family members. My brothers were ecstatic, but my parents were slightly leery. Naturally, they were worried about my safety. With the help of friends who have already been on the same trip, my parents realized that the trip is as safe as possible. My parents were my only obstacle as my other friends were extremely supportive and have offered to help me raise the money.
Q9. Who are your heroes (i.e., inspirational figures), specifically ones related to this Me to We adventure, and why?
A9. One day, I would love to meet the Kielburger brothers. I find their personal stories and accomplishments absolutely inspiring. The legacy they have created has motivated kids everywhere to take action, just like it has me.
Likewise, when I went to a camp held by Free the Children last summer, I met the most happy and positive people I had ever seen. Some of their personal histories were incredibly sad, but still they decided to take control of their lives and make a difference in the world. For that reason, those people [I met at the Free the Children camp] are my heroes.
Q10. Have you given any thought to what you want to study in university or college? What about the type of employment you want down the road?
A10. Although I’m a few years away from university, I want to study science. As I learn more about the different streams of science, I’ll specify the kind. Right now, I am considering [studying and working in] health sciences.
Q11. Will you agree to respond to any questions or comments from our PR Conversations’ readership and (maybe) provide a follow-up post after the trip?
A11. Sure! I’ll be writing a journal through the trip, so I can also post excerpts.
Q12. Do you have a favourite aunt? If yes, which one. 🙂
A12. All three!
[What do you think, could Sarah have a default career in public relations? JG]
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Suggestions requested from PRC readers
Both the Me to We administrators/trip leaders and her parents have suggested that Sarah seek some corporate sponsorship for the remainder of her fundraising (she’s been working at that restaurant every available weekend since she was 14, purely to raise funds for this trip). Do you have any suggestions for corporations or companies that might be open to sponsoring Sarah (in part) for the remaining funds?
Also feel free to offer Sarah comments or suggestions about the trip to Kenya itself. She has a thirst to learn as much as possible about the country she will be visiting and, in particular, the people she will be meeting.
– Supporting a dream (Heather Yaxley, Greenbanana)
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Other dimensions to Sarah
I love my niece because she is family. But the respect and admiration I hold for Sarah is due to the qualities and attributes she has exhibited from a very early age. Even in primary school, Sarah set her own agenda for self-development. Her parents (my sister and brother-in-law) are the first to admit that they’ve never had to give Sarah any direction when it came to school and homework (she’s never even asked them for homework assistance). Sarah is her own toughest critic and coach.
Sarah has always been an “A” student, even in grades 5 through 8 when she was enrolled in an Extended French school (whereby half of all classes—including science, geography, social studies and history—were 100 per cent French instruction and class interaction).
Currently Sarah is enrolled in grade 10 as a vocal major at a public secondary school for the arts located in the Greater Toronto Area (for which she had to audition for acceptance). Her grade 9 average was 92; it appears that her final grade average this year will be even higher.
Besides her grade 10 curriculum, Sarah is involved in three high school vocal groups and participates in the incredibly popular school concerts and musicals. Additionally, she auditioned and was accepted for a part in the musical being put on by an all-boys high school (her elder brother’s alma mater) this month, which involves twice-weekly, three-hour rehearsals (and a lot of time commuting). Since grade eight, Sarah has taken supplementary vocal lessons with a professional musician; in the near future she hopes to test for her Grade 8 Royal Conservatory of Music vocal test, as well as Theory 1. Younger iterations of Sarah focused on several sports, in particular figure skating lessons (her individual coach claimed Sarah had championship potential), and later competitive swimming (including winning a medal at a national-level meet in Manitoba). But having satisfied herself with achieving a high level of expertise in both sports, Sarah decided that she wanted to move on to other endeavours and challenges. (Her parents knew better than to argue.)
Sarah is sandwiched on either side by brothers. They are fiercely protective and proud of her academic achievements and talents, but also (I think) a little bit afraid of their sister Sarah’s example and determination. It’s fair to say that the entire household lives in dread of accidentally throwing out something that is either organic waste or recyclable materials, thus earning Sarah’s disappointment.
Update (March 4, 2009): Thanks to community support from a number of areas, Sarah’s Dream received enough votes (more than 100) to qualify. This means her project has a financial base on Give Meaning. I’m sure my niece will take as much delight in the note accompanying the donation from James McNally (whom neither of us know personally): “Happy to kick things off, hopefully you’ll reach and even go beyond your fundraising goal. Really glad to support you!” Thank you very much, James!
Update: With the direct help of Tom Williams (CEO of Give Meaning), Sarah now has an account in place: Sarah’s Dream to Participate in Me to We (Kenya). One proviso appears to be that her “project” must be voted acceptance (100 votes) by the Give Meaning community. So here is the appeal: please consider visiting the account and casting a vote. You will need to register on the site (very fast and easy) but you don’t need to commit to a donation. It will simply facilitate the site going “live” for those who do wish to use an online platform to contribute. (A note of thanks to Bev Bayus of John Bayus Park, who chose to mail a cheque of support to Sarah.)